A 30 Year Tradition — A Lifetime Of Memories

This year marks the 30th year that I have been building my Christmas decoration collection.  In December 1984 after my 16th birthday, my grandparents picked me up the morning after Christmas to head out to the after-Christmas sales.  My grandparents had been building their Christmas decoration collection since the mid-1940’s when they were married, and every year took advantage of the deep discounts the day after Christmas.  Thanksgiving was always my most favorite holiday because this was the day when my grandmother would first turn on her Christmas lights, inside and out.  It was a wonder to behold.  For weeks prior to Thanksgiving my grandparents worked night and day to make everything perfect. Their home was transformed into a winter wonderland, unlike anything anyone who came to visit had ever seen.  As a child, this was magical; as an adult, it has become my passion.

My mother, who grew up in this wondrous world of Christmas, never caught the decorating bug as her parents had. She put up a few decorations and a tree, but beyond that, the magic remained with my grandparent’s.  When I was in my early teens, my grandparent’s obsession spread to me and I began pulling out any decorations I could find that my mother had gotten from her mother and decorate our basement where I spent much of my time.  It was my own little Christmas that I could enjoy every day.

When I turned 16 and had a job (a source of income) I finally decided I wanted to begin building my very own collection of decorations that I could some day use in my own home.  I shared this with my grandmother, and she was elated.  We made plans to head out together the day after Christmas.

It was a bitter, cold December 26th, with snow falling fiercely.  At 4:30 in the morning my grandparents picked me up and we drove to their favorite Christmas store to wait for it to open at 9:00 a.m.  My grandmother had hot coco and cookies for us while we waited and being that it was so cold and snowy, we took turns waiting in line outside as more and more cars full of people made their way on the treacherous roads to be among the first in the store when it opened.

As we waited, we made our plan of attack.  My grandmother had several things that she just had to have and knew right where they were in the store, so she was going to head to that area first.  There were several things I wanted, one of which was a large nativity.  The original price on this piece was $300.  With the 50% discount it would be only $150.  I’d been saving for this for weeks.  My grandmother gave the job of securing that to my grandfather.  She told him to go immediately to the nativity, and tell the owner he wanted it packed for purchase.

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The other items I wanted were near where my grandmother was going to be going, so she told me to stick close to her and she’d make sure I got there quickly and got exactly what I wanted.

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It was all so exciting.  The anticipation, the thrill, and especially sharing this experience and time with my grandparents.

At 8:30, there were so many people huddled by the door regardless of the snow whipping around, that we all got out of the car and stood in the cold.  Funny how it didn’t seem to feel cold at all.  The three of us huddled together in a circle and we jumped up and down to keep ourselves warm.

The minute the clock struck 9:00 the owner of the store opened the door and greeted my grandparents.  They spent many a day in the store prior to Christmas, buying “must have” things, making of list of things that would have to wait till after Christmas, and many times just stopping by to chit-chat with the staff.  Over the years they had established a friendship with the owners and even had them over to their home to show off their Christmas display.  This particular morning however, the chit-chat was kept to a minimum, as we had a mission.

My grandfather held the door for us as we rushed into the warm store and that was the last I saw of him until much later.  My grandmother took my hand and guided me to a tree where two of the items I wanted were hung.  I’m not really sure when my grandmother began her collection of Annalee’s, but 1984 is the year I started mine.  I bought two pieces that year and have added to my collection nearly every year since.  The two pieces I bought that first year were both boy dolls, one on a sled and the second much smaller piece of a boy holding a snowball.

My grandmother was in the same corner as I, picking up the things she wanted.  Once we had everything that we’d come for safely in our hands, it was time to shop.  Although there were “must have” items that we’d come for, having already secured those, we then had time to just walk around and pick up little things here and there that we hadn’t known we really wanted.

It was nearly an hour before we met up with my grandfather, who had safely boxed up my nativity and bought one very special item for their Annalee collection.  Hanging in the store all through the holidays was a huge 10-piece set of Annalee’s — a Santa in his sleigh with eight reindeer. I actually did not get to see it until the following year when they suspended it from their kitchen ceiling, but it was and is a definite show stopper.

We lost my grandmother in 1999.  With her died the portion of my grandfather’s heart for decorating.  He tried for a year or two without her, but without his lifelong partner to share in the joy of decorating and age making it more difficult and dangerous to get on the ladder to hang much of their collection, he realized it was time to pass the torch.  My grandparents had decided many years prior to my grandmother’s death that they wanted to pass their collection down to me.  Even before that fateful day in 1999, my grandmother had been gifting me with special pieces from her collection each year.  I was so happy that she could part with them.  She told me this way she would be able to see me enjoy them.

In December of 2002, 16 years after purchasing my first Annalee, my grandfather called me over to his house and told me it was time to pass on my grandmother and his most prized Annalee — the Santa, sled and 8 reindeer.  Many tears were shed that day.  Some for the loss we were both still trying to come to terms with and some for the joy I felt in being given such a special gift, a gift that I cherish to this day.

For 12 years now this Annalee has been proudly displayed in our great room.  I’d love to be able to suspend it from the ceiling as my grandparent’s had, but alas, Hubby wasn’t as stoked by the idea.  In fact, dare I say he’s forbidden me from suspending this from the ceiling fans.  Oh well, I doubt the fans would have been able to hold the weight of the 30 pound sled.  Still, on top of the stereo cabinet, it is quite a show stopper.

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So begins the holiday season, so begins another season of finding special pieces to add to my collection, so continues the tradition of decorating unlike most have ever seen.  Although I’ve been absent for several weeks, it has been with good reason — I’ve been decorating.  It takes more than a month to get my home ready for the holidays and with a deadline date set for Thanksgiving, my time has been spoken for.  Much of the main decorating is done, but now all the new additions and changes need tweaking.

My posts for the next month will no doubt consist of sharing traditions, recipes, and decorating ideas that I have been working on for 30 years and have been part of our family my entire life.  The holidays for me are a time to embrace what many have come to find over commercialized and tedious.  The holidays are what you make them.  If people allow the hustle and bustle of outside factors ruin the spirit of the season, they have no one to blame but themselves.  See the forest and the trees, it’s the combination of it all that makes this time of year so wonderful, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

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Halloween Monster Cupcakes

Everything happens for a reason — I truly believe this.

Yesterday I was super busy, nothing new there, but on my agenda was to make some cupcakes for Grace to take to work for Halloween.  She works at a daycare and wanted to do something special for the children she watches.  I got up early, got the cupcakes all baked and then got side-tracked.  I worked on everything and anything it seemed except what I needed to definitely get done — the cupcakes.  I kept telling myself, “I’ll do it next” or “I’ll work on that after dinner.”

Finally, at about 4:00 I decided it was time to stop putting it off and get to work.  I knew I only had an hour before I had to take Grace to a sign language tutoring session up at the college, but figured I could at least get the frosting made.  As I was making it, Grace came in.  She got a big smile on her face and said, “Are you working on the frosting?”  I told her I was and that I would still be able to take her to tutoring but needed to know exactly how much time I had.  She hesitated.  I asked her what was wrong.

“I don’t really HAVE to go to tutoring today.  I could go next week instead. So you don’t have to take me to school until 6:15 for class.”  She told me.

“Good!”  I told her.  “Now I can maybe get the cupcakes all done before we have to leave.”

As I worked on mixing the frosting Grace stayed and watched.  Then, as I pulled out all the bowls for adding the food coloring and got all the decorating tips and sprinkles ready, Grace joined me.  For the next two hours we worked, laughed, and thoroughly enjoyed making the cupcakes TOGETHER.  As we were finishing up Grace told me that she had told one of her coworkers that I was working on the cupcakes while she was at work.  Her coworker told her that was so nice and what a relief it must be that she wouldn’t have to worry about trying to fit it into her schedule.  Grace told her, “Not really.  I really wish I could do it with her.”

My heart sank.  All this time I was trying to get the job done so Grace wouldn’t have to stress about one more thing to do, and what she really wanted was for us to do it together.

I grabbed her around the neck and hugged her tight.  As much as I enjoy doing things for my children, doing something WITH them is so much nicer.  Sometimes I forget that I am not the only one longing for some together time.

Grace and my MONSTER CUPCAKES!

Grace and my MONSTER CUPCAKES!

Yesterday I was reminded how important it is to live in the moment and appreciate everything that we are given, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Halloween Piece de Resistance

The ultimate in my Halloween decor for me has to be the full size coffin my father and I made together back in 2009.  It took 2 days, three wooden pallets, and the meticulous mathematic genius of my father to accomplish this not so small task.  I found instructions on the internet to make this, but my father is more of a hands-on woodworker.  He looked at the plans then set out to do all his own measuring, angling, and cutting.  He just needed the picture of what I wanted it to look like, and off to work he went.

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Every time I look at this, which is practically every day of the year as it is stored in the garage next to my car, I smile.  The memories of all the fun my dad and I had making this are priceless.  Probably the funniest memories are from when we were deciding how large to make the coffin. After we debated for a bit, my father laid down on the floor and told me to mark a few inches above his head, below his feet and on either side of him.  When I was done he said, “There!  Now when the time comes, I’ll be all set.”  We laughed, but it was even funnier when he yelled upstairs to my mother and said, “Honey, come on down here for a minute.  It’s time for your fitting!”

Of course my mother didn’t find this the least bit funny, but we did.  Iy was all in good fun.  Perhaps morbid fun, but to this day my father and I still have a good laugh when we reminisce.

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You might not think the size would really matter, but being that it is a full size coffin, it has been perfect for photo ops at every Halloween party we’ve had.  You’d be surprised how anxious people are to crawl inside and get their picture taken.  The first year we had this displayed, I had a hard time keeping Zeb out of it.  He was constantly crawling inside it and trying to scare everyone.

Now I keep the lid screwed on tight for display purposes, as Halloween parties are a thing of the past for now.  Maybe when the kids get over being “too old” for Halloween, we can once again enjoy Halloween for what it is intended for — FUN!

This final piece of Halloween decor went up this morning in the front foyer and is the perfect finishing touch for the season.  What great fun and wonderful memories, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

“To Die For” Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie and Filling

Trying new foods, especially when it comes to canning, is one of my favorite things to do. I can’t say that I’ve always been open to trying new food though. As a child my parents were hard-pressed to get me to eat anything other than hot dogs, peanut butter and jelly, and chocolate. I hated everything and refused to even try most of what my mother put on my plate.

Over the years I’ve mellowed. Probably the main reason for this was when I began dating I was embarrassed by the fact that there was never anything that I could actually say I liked on the menu. On the first date with my now hubby, he took me to Greek Town in downtown Detroit and ordered gyros for me. Lamb (I had no idea what it was until after he’d ordered it for me)! I choked every bit of it down, claiming the entire time that it was wonderful. To my dismay, hubby then began taking me there at least once a month and each and every time I ate what was put in front of me too afraid to say that I didn’t like it. By the end of our first year of dating, I acquired a taste for lamb and many other foods that I forced myself to eat in order to save face in front of my would-be hubby, his parents, and his friends. What a girl has to go through!

Now-a-days there are not too many things I won’t eat, although I am not partial to seafood and raw tomatoes on anything or by themselves give me hives, literally. Besides that, I do try to keep an open mind and have found that some of the foods that I sat at the kitchen table staring at on my plate for hours after everyone else had finished eating refusing to touch as a child, are actually really good.

Every year I try to find at least one or two new foods to try, be it in a dinner recipe or a new canning recipe. Not everything I’ve tried has been “to die for”, some in fact I doubt I’ll actually ever eat again, but every once in a while I discover something that I’m sorry I didn’t try sooner.  So far this year guava, marmalade, and most recently rhubarb fall in the “to die for” category — especially Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie.

Fresh deep-dish Strawberry Pie has been part of my recipe collection for at least the past twenty-five years. My mother never made it while I lived at home, she was not a pie maker. Whenever my father had a hankering for it he either went to Big Boy or Baker’s Square. Never one to turn away from a challenge, I began making homemade strawberry pies as soon as I moved out on my own and taught myself to cook and bake. I especially loved making things that my father enjoyed because he was always willing to try everything I made. There were very few things he didn’t absolutely love, so this was all the inspiration I needed to keep me cooking — that and my desire to impress my would-be hubby with my ever-expanding culinary skills.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie was one of my father’s favorites, but rhubarb to me was exotic and scary. Because of it’s similar structure to celery, and my continuing dislike of that, rhubarb was one of those things I could never bring myself to cooking with. Finally though, after reading several blogs with tempting recipes using rhubarb, my continuing desire to want to put-up everything and anything I possibly can, and my father mentioning to me in passing that he was going to have to go out and find someplace to get some fresh strawberry-rhubarb pie now that strawberry season was upon us, I had to finally break down and try it.

I am proud to tell you, my father will never again have to eat store-bought, restaurant made, or chemically processed strawberry-rhubarb pie again. I made one last weekend when we celebrated Father’s Day with him. I had him over for breakfast, and for dessert (I truly believe that every meal should have dessert) I gave him the first slice of the first strawberry-rhubarb pie I ever made. He loved it. He could not say enough about it. His only comment other than it was perfect was that it would be even better when it was cold (I served it about an hour after it had come out of the oven).

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie

Okay, so this is the only picture I got of the pie before it was gone -- before I cooked it!

Okay, so this is the only picture I got of the pie before it was gone — before I cooked it!

3 Cups Chopped Rhubarb
4 Cups Sliced Strawberries
1 Cup Sugar
3 Tbsp. Lemon Juice
1/2 Cup Clear Jel dissolved in 1 Cup Water
Pie Crust

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Place in unbaked pie shell and cover with top crust. Cover pie with foil. Bake in 425° oven for 30 minutes. Remove foil, turn oven down to 350° and continue cooking another 20 – 25 minutes till golden brown.

Because the pie turned out so well and everyone loved it, I had to make some Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie Filling and can it so we will be able to enjoy fresh pies all winter long. Here is the recipe.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie Filling

I'll use one quart and one pint jar of filling for a 9" pie.

I’ll use one quart and one pint jar of filling for a 9″ pie.

9 Cups Chopped Rhubarb
12 Cups Sliced Strawberries
3 Cup Sugar
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
1 1/2 Cup Clear Jel dissolved in 2 Cups Water
1 Additional Cup of Water

Chop rhubarb and slice strawberries. Combine fruit in pan and mix in sugar. Add lemon juice, Clear Jel dissolved in 2 cups water and additional one cup of water. Bring to a boil slowly over medium-high heat. Boil for one minute. Ladle into hot jars, remove air bubbles, seal and process in water-bath canner for 25 minutes.

To use: Empty jar of pie filling into prepared crust. Top with crust, seal edges, and bake as above pie recipe.

I am so happy that rhubarb turned out to be one of those “to die for” foods that although I might regret not trying sooner, is now a family favorite. The pie I made was gone within 24 hours and already hubby is asking when I’m making another. The pantry has enough filling for nine pies over the next year, so I think I’ll have to buy a few more stalks of fresh rhubarb this weekend at the fruit market before it is gone for another year and make one more pie before cherries are ready for picking and cherry pie will be on hubby’s mind. I planted two of my own rhubarb plants this past spring so next year I’ll be harvesting home-grown rhubarb to can, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Driving Permit Woes

It has been 16 days since Grace turned 18 and got her driver’s permit. During that time she has driven five times, and mostly under protest. She does not like driving, is afraid of it, and if she had it her way, would never do it again, especially after today.

I suppose it’s a good thing to get that first accident out-of-the-way early in the game, right? Tell me it is? Please! I need to hear that this is normal and that she is just not the most terrible driver out there.

When I picked Grace up at work this afternoon, I told her she could drive home. She wasn’t happy and reluctantly got in the driver’s seat. Fastening her seat belt, she adjusted her seat and the mirrors. Then, as if it were some sort of race, she put the car in reverse and stepped on the gas. I don’t know how many times I have emphasized to her that the gas is not all that necessary when backing out of a parking spot. Plus, it’s as if she can’t multi-task when driving. Turning the wheel and slowly removing her foot from the brake are not something that she seems to understand can be done simultaneously.

After stepping on the gas for a few moments, she then started turning the wheels to back out of the parking space and missed the car next to us by mere centimeters. Of course all I could manage to sputter between my clenched teeth with my finger nails dug deep into the passenger seat was, “That was good.” There’s no possible way she believed me because I was white as a ghost and one hand flew to the top of the car through the open window as I braced for what I was sure was going to be a collision as she was backing out.

“I’m sorry.” she told me. Something that she constantly repeats the entire time she is driving. I keep trying to be supportive, pointing out the positive, reminding her of what she needs to work on, never yelling, but I’m not fooling either of us. Driving is just not something that is coming naturally for Grace.

Once on the main road, Grace only had about 10 seconds before turning off onto a side street leading to our subdivision. I reminded her to put her foot on the brake as she took the turn, but somehow she still managed to jar me to one side of the car as she came within a few feet of a left turner waiting to turn onto the main road. Actually this was better than the last time she took this turn. Last time she had to come to a complete stop in the middle of the turn and barely escaped having to back up in order to not hit a left turner and complete the turn. This is progress? I guess it must be, but my feet were dug into the carpet so deep that I swore they were going to break through the floor which when I think about it would be a good thing.  Then I’d be able to be like Fred Flintstone and use my feet as actual brakes.

Continuing down the side street I reminded her not to hug the curb. She doesn’t like it when there are any oncoming cars so she tends to ride the right side of the road so close that she will often end up going off the road onto the gravel shoulder. Today she only did this once or twice. Again, an improvement of sorts.

Turning into our subdivision was yet another experience. As we approached the turn, I reminded her to apply the brake and wait for traffic to clear. Two oncoming cars passed as we came to the street with another about a quarter mile further down the road. As she proceeded to turn, without stepping on the brake, continuing to accelerate, she asked me, “Is it okay to turn?”

Okay, now tell me if I’m wrong here but shouldn’t she have stopped the car before taking the turn and then asked me this — NOT WHILE DOING IT! Being that the oncoming car was a safe distance away, there was no harm, other than the fact that I had to brace myself with both hands in order to avoid being thrown out my open window.

Trying to compose myself I once again told her she was doing good and that her turn was definitely smoother. How could it not have been smooth. It’s not like she applied the brake at any point to jerk the car or anything. And seeing as I had braced myself securely with one hand clutching the dashboard and the other clinging to the hand grip above my seat, I’m sure I only suffered minor whiplash.

Finally on the home stretch, I silently watched the road as she continued to hug the right side of the road. Reminding her again that she shouldn’t ride so close to the curb, I was met with an exasperated, “I know.” It is completely understandable that she is frustrated. She wasn’t frustrated with me, she was frustrated because she is so afraid of hitting the on-coming cars, that she can’t seem to help herself.

Making the last turn onto our street, Grace commented there was a car that had been on her tail ever since we turned into our subdivision. She joked that he was probably going to follow us home so he could tell her what a terrible driver she was. I told her not to worry about it, because if he did, I’d take care of it. Never cross a mama bear when it comes to her cubs.

Within a few moments I could see our house and let out an audible sigh. You’d have thought we’d been on the road for hours, when actually it had been less than seven minutes.

Five houses from home an oncoming car approached. There was a parked car to the left and farther up another parked car to the right. There was ample time for us to pass both parked cars before the oncoming car would pass us. Unfortunately, Grace panicked.

I’m not sure if it was the stress of the car behind us, the fear of the car in front of us, or the pressure of the cars on either side of us, but it was too much for Grace to handle. She pulled over to the right side of the road, again without applying the brake, heading straight for the parked car. I said (or yelled, I can’t rightly remember now), “Don’t drive so close to the…” TOO LATE!

CRACK!

The mirror on my side of the car smashed into our neighbor’s mailbox, folding against the side of the car. Slowly the car came to a stop several feet from the parked car in front of us. Why the brakes weren’t slammed on is still not clear, but suffice it to say, I remember it more as coasting rather than a sudden halt.

The car behind us sped past between the parked cars before the oncoming car blocked his way. Grace and I sat there.

The oncoming car passed us. We sat there.

Finally, I calmly told her to pull around the parked car and head for our driveway. With tears welled in her eyes, Grace slowly pulled into the middle of the street, drove two houses down, and pulled onto our driveway, all the while telling me how sorry she was. I reminded her that hubby’s car was in the garage, so she needed to be VERY careful when pulling in. Slowly she maneuvered the car perfectly into its spot.

Turning the car off, Grace began to cry. I wrapped my arms around her, fighting my tears, and told her it was okay. She was shaking and sobbing. I held her while she cried and told me how she was never going to drive again. I laughed and told her that at least no one was hurt and no real damage was done. The side mirrors on my car fold in for car washes, so the only damage was a scrape mark on the plastic shell which we were able to remove with a soft rag and WD-40.

I know there must be some wonderful statistics out there about how most accidents happen within a mile or so of home, how teens have more accidents than any other age group, or perhaps even how most accidents occur within the first 6 months of driving — but this is no consolation today. Today I feel that I failed my daughter because I cannot make driving as easy as walking, talking, reading, writing, working, or any of the other hundreds of milestones she seemed to so easily conquer. Her confidence is shattered — or what little she had to begin with and I do not know how to get it back for her. I did tell her that she is going to have to drive again tomorrow, because the only way she is going to get better is to practice.

Grace told me tonight that she really “hates” driving and does not want to drive at all. I assured her this will pass and a year from now although she will still remember today, it will seem ridiculous to her that she made a mistake like this. Her first accident out-of-the-way, no injuries, no real damage (other than Grace’s confidence and my nerves), and a lesson learned — I hope, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Father’s Day Feast — Finally!

Grace was getting over food poisoning this past weekend, so Father’s Day was postponed. We won’t get together with my father until this coming weekend, but I was able to make a special dinner for hubby today reminding him how special he is to all of us.

The Menu:

  • Steaks on the Grill
  • Shrimp Scampi
  • Twice Baked Potatoes
  • Stuffed Mushrooms
  • Freshly Canned Pickled Beets

The Prep:

Steaks on the grill are a no-brainer, but the rest of the dinner took a bit of time and planning in order to get everything on the table at the same time, hot and savory. The first thing I had to do was bake the potatoes. Not wanting to waste the opportunity of running the oven, especially on such a hot Michigan day, I decided to bake as many potatoes as would fit in the oven. This way I could freeze some twice baked potatoes for other days as well as the extra potato shells for deep-fried potato skins.

Twice Baked Potatoes

  • Russet Potatoes
  • Salt
  • Butter
  • Milk
  • Cheese

Bake potatoes at 450° for 45 – 50 minutes depending on size of potatoes. Remove from oven and cool slightly.

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The warmer the potato, the easier it is to scrape out the stuffing. Slice the potatoes in half.

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Using a teaspoon, remove as much of the potato as possible without damaging the skin. Place potato pulp in bowl and set shell aside.

Once all the potatoes are hollowed out, mash the potato. Add salt, butter and milk until the potato is the desired consistency.

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I found that I don’t like to mash the potato to the same consistency as traditional mashed potatoes. These are “baked” potatoes after all, so I leave some lumps in the potato filling.

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After the potato is mashed, begin refilling the hollowed out potato shells. There will not be enough potato to refill all the shells, especially if you heap the potato in the shells as I do.

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Place the filled potatoes in a Corning Ware dish, top with a slab of butter and cheese, and return to oven at 350° for 20 to 25 minutes.

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With any extra filled potatoes, place on a cookie sheet and freeze until firm, wrap in plastic wrap then foil, and return to freezer. Do the same with any extra potato shells. These can be used for either deep-fried potato skins or can be filled with any leftover mashed potatoes in the future.
After the potatoes were done, I turned my attention to the stuffed mushrooms. These have become a family favorite and one that makes mushrooms a standard on my weekly shopping list.

Bacon & Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms

8 Slices Thick Cut Bacon Crumbled
8 oz. Cream Cheese
8 oz. Whole Mushrooms, stemmed and caps hollowed out
Parmesan Cheese

Cook bacon till crisp. Cool and then crumble. Place in small bowl.

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Clean mushrooms and stem. Make sure that the caps are hollowed out. Place in baking dish.

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Fill each mushroom with cream cheese, heaping the cheese on top.

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Dip each mushroom in crumbled bacon, pressing down so bacon covers cream cheese.

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Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes.

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With the potatoes and mushrooms in the oven, and the steaks started on the grill, I worked on the final part of dinner — shrimp scampi.

Shrimp Scampi

1 Pound Cooked and Cleaned Shrimp
2 – 3 Tbsp. Fresh Minced Garlic
1/4 Cup Butter

Melt butter in large fry pan.

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Add shrimp to butter and cook for 1 minute.

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Turn shrimp and add the garlic. Cook for 2 minutes more. Flip one more time, mixing the garlic and the shrimp thoroughly.

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Remove from heat and cover until ready to serve.

Hubby loved his Father’s Day dinner, even if it was a few days late. Enjoying this meal of some of his favorite foods with the kids, when everyone was feeling good, was wonderful. I’ve always believed that holidays should not be the only days to do something special for someone. If you aren’t going to treat every day like Father’s Day or any other “holiday” for that matter, doing it on that one day is not going to make up for the rest of the year. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I don’t love a good excuse to go overboard every once in a while. Today was special because we “celebrated Father’s Day,” but actually we celebrate being a family everyday and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

 

 

Garage Sales Galore!

Always trying to save money, I often buy clothing for my kids from the garage sales. Recently, I purchased a new shirt from JC Penny for my 6-year-old and was wondering why she was reluctant to wear it the next day. After asking her she responded, “Oh, the store has their own washing machine… that’s why we don’t have to wash it first?!”  From:  undefined | Great Clean Jokes

Garage saling became a necessity when the kids were very little.  It was where I bought a good portion of their clothes and even some of their toys.  As they got older, however, their interest in wearing garage sale clothing waned.  I have always enjoyed going to garage sales and finding a bargain and have a hard time resisting those signs advertising “Everything Must Go!”  Recently the kids have gotten a renewed interest in exploring the offerings of garage sales.  When you have unlimited wants but limited funds, necessity dictates.  Plus, very often you can find brand new or slightly used items at garage sales for pennies on the dollar.

The past three days, in every moment that I could spare, I have been enjoying our subdivision garage sale. I’m not exactly sure how many homes are having sales, but with 1,200 homes in our subdivision, even if only 5% were having sales, that’s quite a few to hit.

With my list memorized and money in my pocket, I headed out on Thursday and finally today I can say that I think I’ve hit every single open sale in our sub. Meeting the neighbors, catching up on the latest gossip, seeing how the neighborhood kids have grown, and finding treasures among another man’s trash has made this a pretty good weekend. One of the best parts is that I was able to find some great things we really needed for a fraction of the cost they would have been at retail.

Here are just a few of the things I got:

A brand new bike helmet - $1.00 for Zeb and slightly used backpack - $1.00.

A brand new bike helmet – $1.00 for Zeb and slightly used backpack – $1.00.

A cute bushel-style basket to store my onions in - $.75.

A cute bushel-style basket to store my onions in – $.75.

A fan for hubby's office - $.50.

A fan for hubby’s office – $.50.

Scaves and gloves - all for  $4.00.

Scarves and gloves – all for $4.00.

Brand New rolls of paper towel and packages of napkins - $.10 each and dish soap - $.50 each.

Brand New rolls of paper towel and packages of napkins – $.10 each and dish soap – $.50 each.

Brand New boxes of Kleenex - $.25 each.

Brand New boxes of Kleenex – $.25 each.

Brand New caulk with gun - All for $5.00.

Brand New caulk with gun – All for $5.00.

In addition to those pictured, I also bought one case of quart canning jars – $3.00, one case of pint canning jars – $3.00, one case of brand new jelly jars $2.00, a vintage half-apron with a towel attached to it (homemade) $1.00, 5 DVD movies for the kids – $1.00 each, 5 Perry Ellis shirts for Zeb – $1.00 each, and probably the best deal of all was a bike rack for our car that originally cost $110 for only $10 and the man even showed me how to put it on my car. Whew! What a haul!

Getting a great deal is wonderful, but going to the sales with a good friend on Thursday, Zeb, Grace, and even hubby during the next two days was a nice way to spend some time away from the house and the constant demands of being a housewife. Whoever invented the garage sale had an excellent idea that day, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Birthday Fritters and Stroganoff

I started a birthday tradition for everyone in my family many years ago.  When someones birthday comes along, the birthday girl/boy can choose whatever they wanted for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. At first it was just dinner, but eventually this evolved into a whole day of favorite food choices. There are no limitations to the choices, including going out to a restaurant if the birthday person so chooses.

When they were little, the kids would choose things like spaghetti, pizza, tacos or my personal favorite hot dogs on the grill. As the kids have gotten older, however, their choices have become a bit more sophisticated. Breakfast could be Belgium waffles, country boy omelets, or crepes. Lunch might be something as simple as fried chicken or as elaborate as shrimp alfredo. Dinners range from chicken scampi to an entire Mexican smorgasbord to roast turkey with all the fixings.

Yesterday for Grace’s 18th Birthday she had to be at work at 7:30, still she requested homemade apple fritters. I didn’t mind getting up a little earlier than usual to make them, but next year I doubt Grace will be so quick to ask for a special breakfast. She too had to get up earlier in order to have time enough to enjoy them and a morning person she is not.

Apple Fritters

Apple Fritters

Apple Fritters

1 Cup Flour
3/4 tsp. Baking Powder
1/4 tsp. Salt
1 Egg
1/3 Cup Milk
2 Large Granny Smith Apples, chopped
4 tsps. Butter, melted
1 tbsp. Sugar
1 tbsp. Orange Juice
1/4 tsp. Vanilla
Oil for frying
Cinnamon/Sugar for dusting

In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Combine dry ingredients.

Combine dry ingredients.

In another bowl, beat egg and milk.

Combine milk and egg.

Combine milk and egg.

Add the apple, butter, sugar, orange juice, and vanilla; mix well.

Add apple and remaining ingredients to milk mixture.

Add apple and remaining ingredients to milk mixture.

Stir into dry ingredients until moistened.

Mix apple mixture into dry ingredients.

Mix apple mixture into dry ingredients.

In an electric skillet heat 1/4 inch oil to 375° F. Drop batter by rounded tablespoons into oil.

 

Deep fry until golden brown.

Deep fry until golden brown.

Fry until golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels. Dust with cinnamon and sugar. Serve warm.

Drain on paper towel and dust with cinnamon and sugar.

Drain on paper towel and dust with cinnamon and sugar.

We had an early dinner on Grace’s birthday because she had to get to her second job of coaching adaptive softball in the evening. She couldn’t decide what she wanted, but because we were so busy getting her permit and doing other birthday-type things, I decided to make one of her favorite meals, Beef Stroganoff. Grace was happy with this, and I was too, it’s a quick fix and hearty meal.

Serve hot over noodles.

Serve hot over noodles.

Beef Stroganoff

2 lbs. Chuck or Round Steak, cut into thin slices
2 lbs. Fresh Mushrooms, sliced
1 Onion, chopped
6 tbsp. Butter
1 tsp. Salt
6 tbsp. Flour
3 1/2 Cups Milk
1 tbsp. Beef Bouillon
1 Cup Greek Yogurt
Egg Noodles

Brown steak in fry pan till cooked.

Brown beef.

Brown beef.

In electric fry pan, melt butter and cook mushrooms and onions till tender.

Cook mushrooms and onion till tender.

Cook mushrooms and onion till tender.

Add salt and flour to make a roux.

Add flour and salt to make a roux.

Add flour and salt to make a roux.

Slowly add milk and stir to combine.

Add milk and cook till thick and bubbly.

Add milk and cook till thick and bubbly.

When thick add bouillon and steak, including any juice from the meat. Cook for 30 minutes till warm and bubbly.

Add beef to mushroom gravy.

Add beef to mushroom gravy.

Cook egg noodles. Just before serving, stir in yogurt. Serve over noodles.

I love making my family’s birthdays special and one way to do this is to spoil them with the foods they love. What’s the saying? The way to a man’s heart…Well I think that goes for the entire family, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Baltic Amber Stress Relief

A couple of months ago Gracie came home from work raving about Baltic amber and the healing qualities and health benefits it promised. Just to name a few of the possible benefits — migraine, sinus, body ache, stress, and anxiety relief. Not necessarily believing something as simple as pure amber could deliver on even half of what it promised, we did some research on the Internet.

Although there wasn’t a whole lot of information on Baltic amber, other than the typical sales pitch, Gracie was convinced this would help her immune system fight off the constant ailments she faces at school and work. So, I ordered us each a Baltic amber bracelet from Amazon.

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We have both been wearing these bracelets for about two months. I’m not sure I’ve noticed anything different because I control my migraines, stress, anxiety, and sinus issues with raw milk and my morning coffee. I have noticed, however, my stress levels do seem to be very low, so maybe it is picking up where the milk and caffeine leave off.

This morning after an especially stressful conversation with my mother on the phone which left me literally shaking, Gracie and I headed out on some errands. We finished our errands then decided to enjoy the sunshine by walking around a local outdoor mall.

As we strolled in and out of stores Gracie asked, “How is your amber bracelet working out for you?”

“I think okay.” I answered.

“Does it help with your stress and anxiety?” she continued.

“Well, you saw how well it helped when I was talking to your grandmother.”

Scoffing she replied, “It’s not a miracle worker, Mom!” We both laughed.

This was one of those special mother/daughter moments where laughter is truly the best medicine. I don’t know if the Baltic amber has any effect on the stresses in my life, but Gracie sure does. My stress level fell, the anxiety drained from my body, and the rest of the day each time I looked at my bracelet, I smiled, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Lilacs A-Blooming

The last few days have been picture-perfect here in Michigan — warm, sunny, and no rain, it doesn’t get much nicer.

With all the sun and warmth, the lilacs are pretty much in full bloom.  Just walking on the side of the house where they grow, you are consumed by their fresh, sweet scent.

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I don’t understand why lilacs last for such a short period of time.  Although they have been “blooming” for about a week, they just reached full bloom when their scent becomes inescapable and will probably begin to wither and die by the weekend.

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Knowing that they will last only for a few short days, I took the opportunity today to pick two bouquets.  The first went to a neighbor who recently got out of the hospital and the second went up in my daughter’s room.  It is a surprise for her when she gets home from work.

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Summer is right around the corner.  It is so close you can smell it, and not just in the blooming lilacs, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.